Orders of the Day — British Nationality Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th February 1964.

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Order for Second Reading read.

10.7 p.m.

Photo of Miss Mervyn Pike Miss Mervyn Pike , Melton

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is a small but nevertheless important Bill and one which I think will be welcomed, certainly by the whole House, and also by a great many people outside, particularly those people in the Commonwealth who are at present seeking reassurance in this matter. It is, however, highly technical, and I hope that I shall be excused if I take a few minutes to explain the origin of the problems with which the Bill proposes to deal and what is its purpose and scope.

Within the Commonwealth there are a number of separate citizenships, each of which makes a person a British subject or Commonwealth citizen in the law of the United Kingdom. Every time any part of the Commonwealth achieves independence, a fresh citizenship of this kind is created, and it is normal for the legislation conferring independence on such a country to contain provisions to the effect that citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies who acquire the citizenship of the new country shall lose their citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies unless they, or their fathers or their fathers' fathers, were born, naturalised or registered in the United Kingdom or a remaining colony.

In many of these new countries of the Commonwealth, as, indeed, in many of the older Commonwealth countries, there are people of United Kingdom origin who wish to become citizens of the new country without severing all their links with Britain. Our law permits such persons to become citizens of both countries.

In the case of Tanganyika and Kenya, however, this happy solution is not possible, because the laws of those coun- tries contain a total prohibition on dual citizenship; that is to say, any citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies who either acquired the citizenship of those countries automatically upon the coming into force of the Constitution, or subsequently elects to do so, must renounce his citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies within a short time thereafter on pain of losing his new citizenship.

Before a person decides whether to apply for the citizenship of one of these countries, he may want to know if he will be able to get his United Kingdom citizenship back again later on if he should wish to return to this country or settle elsewhere in the world.

Our present nationality law requires such a person, before he can be registered again as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, to become ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom or a Colony and to continue ordinarily resident there for five years or such shorter period as the Secretary of State may in special circumstances allow. No doubt we would be ready to shorten the period quite considerably for the benefit of people who had always had a close connection with this country and who were, in effect, coming home when they came here.

Naturally, however, such people would rather be able to become United Kingdom citizens before coming here; indeed, some such people might not wish to settle here at all, but might wish, in the first instance, to transfer their residence to some other country.

As already announced during the debates on the Kenya Independence Bill, the Government have the greatest sympathy for people so circumstanced, and accordingly they have introduced this Bill for the purpose of enabling them to re-acquire citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies—which they lost simply in order to comply with the requirements of the local law—without having to fulfil the normal requirements as to residence in the United Kingdom or Colonies.

Clause 1(1) gives such people an entitlement to registration as United Kingdom Citizenship if they fulfil the two conditions set out at (a) and (b). The first is that they had to give up their United Kingdom citizenship in order to acquire or retain the citizenship of another country within the Commonwealth; the second is that they have what is called a qualifying connection with the United Kingdom and Colonies, and subsections (2) and (3) define what a "qualifying connection" is.

It is, in fact, the same connection as exempts a person from loss of citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies if he automatically becomes a citizen of one of the newly independent states within the Commonwealth; that is, if he, his father, or his father's father was born, naturalised or registered in the United Kingdom or a Colony.

There may well be other deserving cases which do not come within the four comers of that definition, and accordingly subsection (1) goes on to provide that people who satisfy condition (a) but not condition (b) may nevertheless be registered at the discretion of the Secretary of State. This discretion will be administered sympathetically in the case of people who have a genuine connection with the United Kingdom and Colonies. Subsection (6) will have the effect of enabling applications to be dealt with quickly on the spot by the British High Commissioner. I should also like to make clear that the facilities provided by Clause 1 will be open without limit of time.

I come to Clause 2. The opportunity of this legislation has been taken to make two improvements in the law relating to renunciation of citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies. At present, with the laudable object of avoiding statelessness, the law provides that a person cannot renounce his citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies effectively unless he possesses some other nationality or citizenship. But the laws of some other countries make it impossible to acquire their citizenship unless the person first of all renounces any other citizenship that he may possess.

Clause 2 eases this difficulty by providing that a person may renounce his citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies if he satisfies the Secretary of State that he will, after his renunciation has become effective, acquire the citizenship or nationality of another country.

Subsection (2) makes a further desirable alteration to our law about renunciation. At present no renunciation is effective until it has been registered at the Home Office. Now that large numbers of renunciations are being made in Tanganyika and Kenya, it will be convenient both to the administrative authorities and also to the persons concerned if these can be registered by British High Commissioners, and subsection (2) makes provision accordingly.

I believe that this Bill will be welcomed in all quarters in the House, and I gladly commend it for Second Reading.

10.14 p.m.

Photo of Sir Frank Soskice Sir Frank Soskice , Newport (Monmouthshire/Gwent)

This obviously sounds a perfectly reasonable Bill, and it would seem to make provisions which will greatly ease the position of a number of persons in Commonwealth countries whose situation as it stands may be one of some uncertainty. I certainly welcome the Bill. The hon. Lady in her opening speech described it as an important Measure—a Bill which will be of great interest to a number of people outside the United Kingdom, in Commonwealth countries. This is a little Bill that, as it were, suddenly descends on this House from the heavens, and except that there may have been some indication of its birth in the Kenya Independence Bill, I do not know of any other outward mark or sign that has heralded is arrival or presaged its likelihood.

What has given rise to it? Is the hon. Lady saying that the only countries that make it necessary are Kenya and Tanganyika or does it relate to any other Commonwealth countries. There is a degree of similarity between the Constitutions of more than one of the Commonwealth countries. Will this Measure affect persons in countries other than in Kenya and Tanganyika?

As I understand the hon. Lady, Clauses 1 and 2 are rendered necessary by the constitutional provisions of those two countries. Can she give the House any indication as to the number of people who are affected by the separate Clauses? Does the Bill affect a considerable number of persons at present resident in Kenya and Tanganyika and possibly wishing to come back to this country? Have there been a large number of applications for registration under Clause 1 which can now be satisfied, and which previously could not have been satisfied? Similarly, are a large number of people affected by Clause 2, in the sense that they wish to acquire citizenship of one of the Commonwealth countries but who are at present prohibited from so doing by the provisions of Section 19 of the 1958 Act? What is the magnitude of the problem?

I entirely sympathise with the desire to ease the lot of persons of that sort, and one sympathises with them in the great uncertainty which the modern movement of events may have occasioned them in planning their future, but, the hon. Lady having described this as a Bill of importance and interest to a number of people in the Commonwealth outside the United Kingdom, it would be of interest to the House if she could, in just a few words—provided that she gets the leave of the House to do so—give some indication of the magnitude of the problem; the number of people likely to be affected, the degree of agitation, how many applications there have so far been, and in what sort of circumstances it has become necessary for them to change their nationality within the tier system effected by the 1948 Act. That information would be valuable, and would make it easier to understand why the Bill is being introduced.

Photo of Miss Mervyn Pike Miss Mervyn Pike , Melton

By leave of the House, I will try to clear up those points. It is quite right that I said that this is an important Bill, but its importance is not reflected so much in the number of people affected by it as in the complete reassurance it will give to many people with connections with this country. This Measure really arises because in Kenya and Tanganyika there are a larger number of people with close connections with the United Kingdom than there are, perhaps, in other Commonwealth countries. As the Commonwealth countries become independent and make their own nationality laws, it is becoming increasingly evident that there is at times liable to be a conflict in people's minds as to whether they should give up their United Kingdom citizenship, with the possible chance of not being able quickly to regain it.

The problem is not large at present, and there has been no great agitation for this provision. It was the independence of Kenya and Tanganyika that brought the problem to mind, and the need to give these people the assurance that, should they wish to regain their Commonwealth and United Kingdom citizenship, they would be able to do so on terms of ease. We all recognise that many people now living in Kenya may wish and at a future time to settle in another country. Many of them have close ties, and might not wish to spend, perhaps, five years in this country in order to regain their United Kingdom citizenship. I believe that my right hon. Friend would not insist on the long residence qualification, but to return here could be an inconvenience to them.

The purpose of this Bill is to enable citizens of this country, British subjects, citizens of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth, to play their part fully in the emerging independent Commonwealth, but to do so with the assurance that they are not putting in jeopardy their chance of regaining their citizenship here should they wish to do so at a future date.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Finlay.]

Committee Tomorrow.